South Eastern Colorado and Lots of Painting!

April 14-25

We are now back in Colorado and we are loving being back in the trees and mountains.  As much as we loved all the rock formations of Utah, we do love the mountains of Colorado.

We decided to stay in Dolores, CO based on an RV park with great wifi and cell phone coverage because I was going to attend the Plein Air Painting Convention online. After getting set up and giving Buddy a good walk around that campground which is on acreage, we went across the road to the McPhee Recreation Area and Reservoir.  The area has beautiful 360-degree views of the mountain ranges, but seeing how low the water level was in the reservoir was shocking.  Colorado needs rain/snow in a bad way. 

Great Views on a clear day
What happened to all that water?

We then stopped by the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.  This area is full of archaeological sites from Native American Tribes.  The museum was closed, but we did the short hike up to the preserved Escalante Pueblo built in the 1100’s. 

On the 15th I got up early to hike with Buddy and get ready for the Plein Air Live Convention.  The next three days were action packed and full of lots of learning.  It was fascinating to watch various professional artists paint a variety of subject matters and all of them had a different approach.  Fortunately, I am able to replay the event, because it was too much information to absorb in such a short time. 

Buddy got a bit bored watching all the videos

On the first afternoon of the convention I had to get out since it was a beautiful day and I couldn’t sit inside anymore, so I did a quick watercolor painting from our campground.  One of the other campers (who we became friends with) ended up buying the painting.  I was so flattered and happy that they loved it.

On the 2nd day I watched an amazing demo of an artist painting rock formations. I was inspired to paint a scene from Capital Reef, and the weather in Dolores wasn’t great that day, so I painted inside and was fairly happy with the outcome. 

Capital Reef

My head was spinning on the last night with thoughts about color mixing, warm and cool colors and the different shade and shadow techniques we learned.  I have so much to work on!

After the final day of the convention, I needed a lot of exercise so we headed over to the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument trail in the Sand Creek Area.  We were able to take Buddy on the hike to see remnants of Puebloan homes from the 1200’s.  The trail was fantastic, and we saw our first spring wildflowers.  I am always thrilled when bright colors come back to the landscape. 

It was also great to see some of these ruins from the trail. 

After we finished the hike, we decided to go across the street to a winery.  The Sutcliffe Vineyard sign said that it was one of the most beautiful vineyards in Colorado, so we had to go!  We were so happy that we did, because the setting was fantastic. We sat with a glass of wine, enjoying the view, while I painted their doors.  I felt like I was back in Italy and the wine was good.  What a perfect way to end the day.

Painting with a glass of wine
The Sutcliffe Winery Doors

The following morning, we got up and headed over to Mesa Verde National Park.  We had been there a few years ago and loved it.  In the past we did the Cliff Palace tour where we went with a guide and were able to climb down into the cliff dwellings.  Due to Covid there were no tours but we still enjoyed the views from the overlooks.

Cliff Palace
Ceremonial Site

We decided to do a hike called the Petroglyph hike.  There were petroglyphs, but both of us felt that the hike was much more than that.  The hike begins with lots of switch backs dropping you down quickly in elevation, and then along a ledge/rim trail between rocks, through caves, around trees with fantastic vistas.  I could feel the Puebloan energy, and felt like I was transported back in time and was walking with them.  It was easy to imagine how they must have lived in these cave dwellings and moved between cliff dwellings.  Another fantastic hike that we would highly recommend.

The amazing trail through rocks
Amazing cave overhangs
The Petroglyphs

That afternoon I decided to repaint the doors from the Vineyard.  After looking at it (and having learned so much recently) I felt that the first version was flat.  I decided it would be better to pull the viewer into the painting by adding the side wall in perspective, open one of the doors to make the viewer want to go inside, and to also add some warm light glowing from the inside.  I also decided to improvise and add some leaves to the vines, add some shadows based on what I assumed would be morning light (we were there with afternoon light behind the building).  I think all these changes enhanced the second painting and was happy to explore it further. 

Welcome to the Winery

We left Dolores and headed North to start our slow trek back to Boulder.  We drove Highway 145 which is one of the San Juan Scenic Byways.  The road follows the Dolores River and was full of painting inspiration.  We started off in a glorious valley with green pastures and beautiful homes.  It felt so peaceful and quiet that I wanted to stay longer.  Eventually the road wound up out of the valley towards the snow capped Mountains.  There were a hundred spots that I could have pulled over to paint.  Eventually we came to a pullout that turned out to be a place that we could have camped. If we had not had campground reservations in Ridgway we would have stayed the night.  However, we made the best of it and parked for a few hours while I painted, Ross played guitar and Buddy played in the river.  Fun was had by all!

While painting this painting I was able to incorporate more of what I learned over the past few days.  I started with a quick sketch to try and make sure that my composition worked for me. I then laid down a warm base coat of paint on the panel (which adds an undertone of warmth).  I also was very conscious of mixing warmer paint colors for the area in sunlight (even though it was a grey day) and cooler coolers for the areas in shade.  I also studied the color of the water and used more greens and browns than I would have in the past.  I was pretty happy with the outcome and made just a few minor adjustments to finish it off when we got to our next location.

The Dolores River

We packed up and headed further North through a cute town of Rico, through groves of aspen trees, over a pass with striking views of the mountains and down through more rocky canyons.  We have decided that this area is going to have to be further explored in the fall when the Aspens are turning colors and I could paint for days!!  Ultimately, we pulled into the town of Ridgway which is charming and into Ridgway State Park.

We were able to get our 2nd Covid shot in Montrose, so we laid low on the first day and enjoyed walking around the park. Fortunately, we had very minimal reactions to the shot, so we were able to do a short hike in the morning and then proceed to Telluride for the day.  We had spent a few days skiing in Telluride years ago and loved it.  It is a beautiful town tucked into the end of a valley with mountains surrounding it on three sides.  The historical buildings are well maintained and restored, and there is a great feeling walking around town.  We stopped and had a nice lunch outdoors just in the nick of time.  The temperature plummeted as we finished up, and within 20 minutes it was snowing.

Looking back to Telluride with the snow clouds

The following day we spent the morning refining the arts!  Ross played guitar while I made some adjustments to a few of the paintings done along the way.  We then headed over to the other charming historical town of Ouray.  We had passed through Ouray years ago when we were in a small pop-up camper.  We strolled the streets and loved looking at the historical buildings with the backdrops of amazing mountains.  Ouray unfortunately has a bit to touristy feeling for us, so a few hours was good. 

We headed back to walk around Ridgway which again is filled with historical buildings from the mining days.  With this being an even smaller town it was a quick walk and then back to the campground. 

Ross headed off to work on his golf, and I walked down to the beautiful river on the campground to paint.

Due to the winds (and it has been windy all week) I decided to work in watercolor so that I wouldn’t need to set up my easel and risk having it blow over.  It was late afternoon light on the river and the background was in shade, so it made for a darker composition, but I loved the glimmer of light and movement in the river.  There are a few things that I am really happy with in this painting.  I added some yellow ochre to the green/brown river color to show the light and the reflection of the bottom of the river.  I was able to leave some whites from the paper to show through and I also used a bit of white gouache (which is an opaque watercolor) to add some additional whites at the end to capture the movement of the water.

The Flow of Life

On our last full day in the area we woke up to a glorious warm still day. I decided to head out on the Enchanted Mesa Trail which climbs up the hillside out of the campground, over the dam wall and along the reservoir. The colors were magical, and had we had one more non-windy day I would definitely painted from that trail.

Ross picked me up at the end of the trail and we drove up the Million Dollar Highway to Silverton, which was an old mining town halfway between Ouray and Durango. It is another road that we had driven in the fall season and loved. The road begins as a narrow windy road with steep drop off’s, and then winds past old historic mines and shacks, over snowy mountain passes, past red colored mountains into Silverton.

The sleepy town of Silverton

It was time to pack up and start heading home. The rest of the trip will basically be a few stops along the way to break up the drive. I think Buddy is getting ready to be at home in his own backyard as are we. Stay well until we meet again!

I’m ready to go! Are we home yet?

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